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For use of the word in the New Testament and Christian theology, see Monogenēs.
Release poster
Directed by E. Elias Merhige
Produced by E. Elias Merhige
Written by E. Elias Merhige
  • Brian Salzberg
  • Donna Dempsey
  • Stephen Charles Barry
Music by Evan Albam
Cinematography E. Elias Merhige
Edited by Noëlle Penraat
Theatre Of Material
William Markle Associates (Sound)
Distributed by World Artists (All media)
Release dates
Running time
72 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent
Budget $33,000 (estimated)

Begotten is a 1990 American experimental dark fantasy horror film written, produced, edited and directed by E. Elias Merhige.[1] It narrates the story of Genesis while re-imagining it.

Begotten is considered by Merhige himself as the start of an unofficial trilogy. The second film in the trilogy is the 14-minute short Din of Celestial Birds, which deals with evolution and premiered in 2006 on Turner Classic Movies, and was shot in similar visual fashion as Begotten.[2]

Plot synopsis[edit]

The story opens with a disfigured man bleeding uncontrollably and beginning to scar himself in flames. A robed, profusely bleeding "God" disemboweling itself, with the act ultimately ending in its death. A woman, Mother Earth, emerges from its remains, arouses the body, and impregnates herself with its semen. Becoming pregnant, she wanders off into a vast and barren landscape. The pregnancy manifests in a fully grown convulsing man whom she leaves to his own devices.

The "Son of Earth" meets a group of faceless nomads who seize him with what is either a very long umbilical cord or a rope. The Son of Earth vomits organic pieces, and the nomads excitedly accept these as gifts. The nomads finally bring the man to a fire and burn him. "Mother Earth" encounters the resurrected man and comforts him. She seizes the man with a similar umbilical cord. The nomads appear and proceed to rape her. Son of Earth is left to mourn over the lifeless body.

A group of characters appear and carry Mother Earth to another place, where they dismember her, later returning for Son of Earth. After he, too, is dismembered, the group buries the remains, planting the parts into the crust of the earth. The burial site becomes lush with flowers. Grainy photographs of God Killing Himself are shown. In a final coda, "Mother Earth" and "Son of Earth" are seen again in a flashback, this time wandering peacefully through a forest.


  • Brian Salzberg ... God Killing Himself
  • Donna Dempsey ... Mother Earth
  • Stephen Charles Barry ... Son of Earth



Begotten was written, produced, and directed by Edmund Elias Merhige. Development for the film began in 1984.[3] Merhige, who owned a small theatre production company in New York at the time, had worked on several different experimental theatre productions up to that point and was working on developing his next project. He had originally intended for the film to be a theatre production, and later recalled: "I originally thought of it as a dance theatre with live music piece that we would do at Lincoln Center." It was only after discovering that it would cost a quarter of a million dollars to produce that Merhige decided to make the script into a motion picture. Merhige, who was twenty at the time he wrote the script, was inspired by the theories and ideas of Antonin Artaud and Friedrich Nietzsche, which in his opinion had not been developed on film to the fullest extent.[4] Film critic Eric D. Snider pointed out that David Lynch's Eraserhead might have influenced the film's visual style as well.[5] The film incorporates many different religious themes and events from Christian and Slavic mythology including Creation, Mother Earth, and various other religious themes on which the events that take place in the film are loosely based upon.[3][6]


Filming took place over a period of three and a half years in several different locations, with Merhige filling multiple roles in the film's production including working on the film's cinematography, and special effects, the later of which he constructed an optical printer which he used for the film's special effects.[4] The film was shot using an 16mm Aeroflex camera on black and white reversal film filming Merhige would experiment with the film reel, going through multiple processes including running the unshot negative through sandpaper in order to scratch up the negative before shooting. Still unsatisfied with the overall effect, Merhige decided to use an optical printer but was unable to find one within the film's budget, so he constructed one himself using old and spare parts that he acquired from camera stores and special effects houses. The film was shot in several different locations with the majority of the film being shot for a period of 20 days on a construction site on the border between New York, and New Jersey where the makers had been given permission to film at.[4][6]


The film was later released on DVD in 2001 by World Artists.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

"Few motion pictures have the power to jolt an audience with the fury, imagination, and artistic violence of Begotten, a 1991 tour de force from Elias Merhige currently debuting on home video. This cryptic independent production is a film of eccentric brilliance, skillfully balancing the glorious and the grotesque in an unforgettable work of art."

Phil Hall, from Wired[8]

Critical reception for the film has been mostly positive.

Horror gave the film a positive review, stating, "Begotten is hard to consume on many levels. Though in that consumption is also a smattering of brilliance".[9] Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader praised the film calling it "a remarkable if not extremely upsetting and gory black-and-white experimental feature", further stating: "If you're squeamish you should avoid this like the plague; others may find it hard to shake off the artistry and originality of this visionary effort. And if you're looking to be freaked out you shouldn't pass it up."[10] Susan Sontag called it "one of the 10 most important films of modern times".[11]

Angelo from gave the film a positive review; stating in his review of the film, "In a way, it inspires so much emotion on such a deep and raw level, it’s a moving and poignant film. However, the message it makes is not pretty. You will see the horrors that man is capable of in shockingly graphic detail. But if you’re like me, and wondering if you’ve been desensitized after years of horror flicks, it’ll show you whether you can still feel or not".[12]

It holds a 63% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, based on eight reviews.[13] The film is currently banned in Singapore.[14] In 2012, Complex included Begotten on its list of 50 Most Disturbing Movies.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maslin, Janet (1991-06-05). "Begotten". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Din of Celestial Birds - Friday, September 15 at 8 & 11 P.M. E.T. and an additional showing at 4 A.M. E.T. Turner Classic Movies
  3. ^ a b Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Begotten". Chicago Reader. Jonathan Rosenbaum. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Essman, Scott. "Interview: Elias Merhige (Begotten)". Scott Essman. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  5. ^ Snider, Eric. "What’s the Big Deal?: Eraserhead (1977)". Eric D. Snider. Retrieved 11 August 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Maslin, Janet. "Begotten - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes -". New York Janet Maslin. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  7. ^ "Begotten (1991) - Releases - AllMovie". Allmovie. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  8. ^ Hall, Phil. "Begotten Not Forgotten". Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  9. ^ "Film Review: Begotten (1990)". Horror Horror News. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  10. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Begotten | Chicago Reader". Chicago Reader. Jonathan Rosenbaum. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  11. ^ "Allmovie – Begotten". 
  12. ^ "Begotten (Movie Review)". Angelo. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  13. ^ "Begotten (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 July 2015. 
  14. ^ "List of Banned Films". Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  15. ^ Barone, Matt; Serafino, Jason (17 August 2012). "The 50 Most Disturbing Movies". Complex. Retrieved 26 July 2015. 

External links[edit]